New Indigenous body to meet

AM - Monday, 6 December , 2004  08:10:00

Reporter: Louise Yaxley

TONY EASTLEY: This week sees the first meeting of the Government's new advisory body to oversee Aboriginal affairs.

It replaces some of the work carried out by the now defunct ATSIC, but already there are signs that the National Indigenous Council will not have an easy ride.

There are already some extremely radical ideas being suggested by its members. One, Warren Mundine, says Indigenous people should abandon communal ownership of land - or land rights.

But his idea is under attack as dangerous from another Indigenous leader, Mick Dodson, as Louise Yaxley reports.

LOUISE YAXLEY: One of the members of the National Indigenous Council to meet with the Prime Minister and other senior ministers this week is Warren Mundine, who's also a vice president of the Federal Labor Party.

Mr Mundine says he’s changed his mind about land rights and no longer supports communal ownership of land.

WARREN MUNDINE: Well, I've been talking about this for a long while. I'm…people look at me and they go back 20 years into my career and they see me as a staunch fighter land rights. In fact, I was in the Commonwealth Games demonstrations for land rights in Queensland and was locked up for it, but, you know, I've come to the realisation that many other people are coming to, is what land rights is doing in regards to communal ownership, where the profit and the benefits of that ownership, is not being spread throughout the community. In fact, it's retarding our economic development. Where you cannot use land for economic benefit, that you've got it locked away, then what it's doing is we’ve been asset rich, but cash poor – not putting any food or any clothes any money in our pockets.

So, we've got to take a drastic look at it and start turning it around to our advantage.

LOUISE YAXLEY: And is that something you’ll raise with the Prime Minister at the National Indigenous Council meeting this week?

WARREN MUNDINE: That's one of the many things I'll be raising with him.

LOUISE YAXLEY: But Mr Mundine's idea has been strongly attacked by Mick Dodson, the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

MICK DODSON: Well, firstly in relation to communal ownership, I don't think he has any idea what he's talking about. I think he has no comprehension of what land means to people or how it's held. Perhaps he ought to get out and learn about it, and it's a little frightening that he's saying things like this if he's to be a member of this new appointed organisation. This could be very, very dangerous for Aboriginal people. We've got people who don't understand things and can't think them through. I shudder at the quality of the advice that the Government’s going to get with people who have superficial understanding of issues of complexity like Indigenous land ownership.

What we need to do is think about creative ways. The problem isn't with the land ownership, the problem is with the lack of imagination and creative thinking on behalf of financial institutions and governments. In some instances in this country, Aboriginal people are prohibited from using their land as collateral in a lease title way without threatening the underlying title. For example, the national parks in the Northern Territory – controlled by the Commonwealth. I'd love to see how much they'd be worth on the open market, but I'm not allowed to do that, Commonwealth law prevents them from doing that.

LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Dodson was with the footballer Michael Long when he met the Prime Minister on Friday. Mick Dodson says he’s prepared to have more such talks with the Prime Minister on the way ahead for Indigenous people.

MICK DODSON: Well if I'm welcome I will, but we're at early stages of the discussions, we've had one meeting.

TONY EASTLEY: Aboriginal leader Mick Dodson.